I remember as a young would-be producer (before everyone was a producer) and being desperate to get some hours behind the desk. So in a moment of keen excitement stupidity I agreed to produce an album for a female singer songwriter without listening to any of the material, you can guess the punch line. Both her songs and her voice were (to put it kindly) utterly terrible, these were the days before auto-tune. I spent the first two days trying to come up with some kind of possible solution that would give us a decent album, I stacked her vocals and added chorus and reverb hoping that the choir approach may cover most of her sins, truth was that not even a priest could have absolved her from her affliction. As I sat there considering what to do, deep in my gut I knew that this was not going to be a win-win but a lose-lose. To tears and annoyance from her manager I bailed on the gig, he said I was an idiot - he was right. However there was simply nothing to redeem from this situation expect perhaps a book of poetry. I would love to hear your production car-crash stories, we all have them, so feel free to share them in the comments.
Producers As Selectors
In a recent post we presented Fixing Audio In Pro Tools - The Case For And Against and the responses were very encouraging. Bobo 65 wrote “To me there’s only one legitimate reason for fixing anything. This is to eliminate distractions from a compelling performance” and Wwittman wrote “A good record sounds like the artiste performing. On a bad one you ‘hear’ the guy with the computer instead.”
If we remove ourselves from the world we live in for a moment and consider sport, the Olympics in fact. Imagine if the teams for the Olympics were chosen in the same way as much of our music is today - of course the idea is ludicrous - you can’t take someone without speed and make them fast (no jokes about PEDs here please) or an ice-skater and fake the grace of the dance. Of course all that stuff is done live and in the public eye, not in post hidden away, although to be fair I’m yet to go to a gig and find out the band can’t play or the singer can’t sing, but then I was never a fan of (insert band or artist here) anyway. Sports depend on qualified selectors and talent scouts, in our world we call them A&R, but I think in sport it’s a lot harder to cover a bad decision whereas in music we can simply cheat in the production process, an example that comes to mind is Milli Vanilli.
Producers As Curators
Both of the quotes from community members I mentioned earlier in the post use the P word “performance” and Bobo65 nailed it - our job isn’t to hide the crap in bad performances but to remove the distractions from amazing ones, in much the same way that paintings like the Mona Lisa sit on bare wall wall in the Louvre.
The job of a producer starts before you even get to the studio, it’s finding the talent, nurturing it and then doing your technical best to make sure it shines when recording.
The lesson I learnt as an over-zealous would-be producer was a simple but important one, it is OK to polish stuff, just make sure it’s a diamond and not a turd. Discuss.